Turkish converts to Christianity stand trial for insulting 'Turkishness'
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – Two Turkish men who converted to Christianity went on trial Thursday for allegedly insulting “Turkishness,” and of inciting religious hatred against Islam, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The trial opened just days before a visit to Turkey by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict, during which the pontiff was expected to discuss improved religious rights for the country's tiny Christian minority who complain of discrimination.
Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, are accused of making the insults and of inciting hate while allegedly trying to convert other Turks to Christianity.
The men were charged under Turkey's notorious Article 301, which has been used to bring charges against dozens of intellectuals – including Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk.
The law has widely been condemned for severely limiting free expression and European officials have demanded that Turkey change the law as part of its bid to join the European Union.
Prosecutors accused the two of allegedly telling possible converts that Islam was “a primitive and fabricated” religion and that Turks would remain “barbarians” as long they remained Muslims, Anatolia reported.
The prosecutors also accused them of speaking out against the country's compulsory military service, and compiling databases on possible converts.
Tastan and Topal, who could face up to nine years in prison, denied the accusations in court.
“I am a Turk, I am a Turkish citizen. I don't accept the accusations of insulting 'Turkishness,' ” Anatolia quoted Tastan as telling the court. “I am a Christian, that's true. I explain the Bible … to people who want to learn. I am innocent.”
“I am a Turk, I am a Turkish citizen, it is impossible for me to insult 'Turkishness,”' echoed Topal, according to Anatolia.